Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Release Date: 6/1/2010
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Alpha Protocol is truly a polarizing game. Some will hate it, others will love it. No matter which side of the spectrum you are on, there’s no denying that there are some excellent ideas in place, some of which are executed very well. However, there’s also no denying that some parts of the game are downright broken, tedious, or just terrible. I fall into the “love it” category but even then I must admit the game has some huge issues, enough to draw it down from the 9 or 9.5 score I really wish I could give it.
You play as Michael Thorton, a spy working for a secret US operation known as Alpha Protocol (hence the name of the game). Sent to Saudi Arabia to take out a terrorist named Ali Shaheed who has stolen missiles from a military corporation called Halbech and shot down a passenger plane using them, you soon discover a plan to start a cold war and that everything is not the way it seems. Betrayed by the United States and left on your own with only the help of Mina Tang, another Alpha Protocol operative who is going undercover on an already-undercover service to help you out (confusing, huh?), you must put together all the pieces and try prevent the beginning of a new Cold War. The plot is very intriguing and will take you to Moscow, Taipei, and Rome. If it sounds confusing, that’s because it is at first but as you progress through the game more and more pieces are put together.
Everything about this game has its good and bad parts. Even the best part of the game, the choice system, has its own flaws. The voice acting is all over the place, with some characters like Mina Tang, Steven Heck, and Albatross (the leader of G22, a “terrorist” organization which seeks to monitor the world and prevent evil plots) have excellent voice acting, but other characters (specifically all characters trying to emulate an accent) sound hilariously bad and their attempts at portraying a specific culture are so stereotypical that they are almost offensive. Michael Thorton’s voice acting is all over the place. Josh Gilman (his voice actor) nails the sarcastic/snarky tone, but other elements such as emotional lines of dialogue just come off as stale, corny, and unenthusiastic.
The dialogue and choice system in Alpha Protocol is fantastic. You are typically given three types of choices on how to respond to a situation/line: aggressive, professional, and suave. There are the occasional diversions or fourth miscellaneous option, but other than that the game sticks with this route. On top of that, there is a timer counting down giving you a sense of urgency in making your choice. Rather than having a dull morality system, Michael has a certain reputation for each character which gives the game a whole ‘another layer of depth. Some people prefer you are more aggressive with them, while others prefer you stick to professionalism. Thankfully, the characters are for the most part not-flat so even those who seem to be only professional may appreciate the occasional suave or aggressive comment. Your choices don’t really have a huge effect on the ending, but they certainly do on the way the game plays out and on the fates of many characters. There are some huge branching points and I discovered after beating the game that some characters I considered necessary to my playthrough could be ignored or simply killed in other playthroughs.
As I mentioned earlier, there are still some flaws with the choice system, namely it sometimes being difficult to judge what Michael will say as an outcome of one of your choices. Other than that though, the choice system in this game is fantastic. I’ve spent so much time going on about the choice system and haven’t even mentioned the gameplay yet. You have numerous classes to choose between, ranging from stealthy to shooter and everything in between. The class you choose can actually affect a few lines of dialogue, which is really cool. Gun handling is a mixed bag. On one hand, it does some cool algorithms based on how much you’ve put into ranking up your gun skills as well as your class to decide whether or not a shot will hit or miss an enemy and how much damage it does, but on the other hand it’s really frustrating to miss a perfectly aligned headshot because your pistol skill level is not high enough.
Going the stealthy route is occasionally satisfying, but typically frustrating due to the all over the place AI. I’d say there are three types of enemy AI in this game: stupid, human, and over-powered. The stupid AI seems to run in circles a lot, flail like bullet sponges, and get stuck behind other people or objects in their attempts to get you. The human AI can be really clever and is enjoyable to come up with strategies to defeat. The over-powered AI seems to always spot you and have a limitless supply of grenades and bullets. Going the all-out-shooter route can also be unsatisfying for the exact same reason.
The free-flow format of missions has both its benefits and its drawbacks. On one hand, it really strengthens the espionage feel and gives the game another layer of freedom as the order you complete missions can actually affect the way the story plays out. However, on the other hand, it leads to some missions being way too difficult (because they are made for players later in the game), and some missions way too easy (because they are made for players earlier in the game). Between each mission, you can buy new equipment, explore the “hub” (called a safehouse), and most importantly buy intel. Intel doesn’t only give you strategies for defeating enemies, but secrets and information you can use against/for other characters. This really did make me feel like a spy.
The hacking and lock-picking minigames at first are quite cool diversions from the main gameplay which require some deep thinking, puzzle solving, and excellent eyes. Unfortunately, by the umpteenth time I had to do them I was so tired of it. The graphics are a mixed bag (like so many other elements of the game). There are a few beautiful moments, but for the most part, the game looks bland and too cartoony for its own good, and the bizarre and terrible framerate drops don’t help the graphics out at all. The soundtrack is pretty stellar, especially the main theme. It fits in well with the locations it’s trying to portray, and definitely works well with the espionage theme.
Alpha Protocol is a game I’d love to replay, but when I think of all the tedious, broken, and dull parts I had to go through to get to the good parts, I shy away from a second playthrough. It’s a huge shame too because I’d love to see other ways the story can play out. Fortunately, the game still has left a great impression on me, enough to wish that Sega would give the IP back to Obsidian so a sequel could be developed. I think if I gave the game a few months or maybe even a year, I’d be able to return to it again and see how different Michael Thorton’s tale can go without worrying too much about the bad parts.There is truly nothing else like Alpha Protocol on the market, and I think that this game is at least worth a try, especially to fans of series such as Mass Effect.